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The Taliban regime that controlled up to eighty five per cent of the territory in Afghanistan is comprised of Pathan tribesmen trained in the various madrassas (religious seminaries) of Pakistan. It emerged as a ‘reformist’ force from the Deobandi tradition of Islam. The predominantly Pushtun Taliban emerged in the latter part of 1994 as a ‘messianic’ movement made up of talibs (students) from madrassas, who were living as refugees in Pakistan. They first came to prominence in the year 1994, when they were appointed by the Pakistani administration to protect a convoy attempting to open up a trade route between Pakistan and Central Asia.

The origin of the Taliban movement in Southern Afghanistan can be traced back to another incident in the same year, when a group of talibs from the Darul Uloom Haqqania madrassa in Akora Khattak in Pakistan's North Western Frontier Province (NWFP), led by their teacher Mullah Mohammed Omar, successfully battled a local Mujahideen ‘commander’ who had reportedly assaulted three women in Kandahar.

Gradually, the Taliban – amply supported by Pakistan – metamorphosed into a military force and went on to capture a large part of Afghanistan, after overthrowing the regime of Burhannudin Rabbani. Their military campaign had rapid successes and in the first three months, they captured 12 out of the 36 regions of Afghanistan. These campaigns involved little hard fighting, as commanders simply switched sides after lucrative arrangements with the Taliban had been hammered out. These successes were primarily in the Pashtu belt, their ethnic base. Consequent to establishing control over a majority of the poppy fields located in Southern Afghanistan, they began to expand westward towards Herat and northward towards Kabul. In the captured areas, they imposed strict "Islamic" laws and also disarmed the populace. In 1996, they stormed and captured Kabul, the capital of Afghanistan and immediately imposed their version of the Shariah (Islamic law). A high point in their violence was the torturing and public hanging of former President Najibullah, who had taken shelter in the United Nations (UN) premises. By September 1996, the Rabbani regime had also left Kabul without any resistance and the Taliban militia had assumed power in Afghanistan. The Taliban by that time were controlling 27 provinces of Afghanistan, and the remaining three in the north were under the control of Uzbek-warlord Abdur Rashid Dostum. As a result of their many military successes, the Taliban’s ranks had swelled over from a mere 2,500 to over 30,000 cadres.

The Taliban is widely acknowledged to be a creation of Pakistan and its external intelligence agency, the Inter Services Intelligence (ISI). This factor goes a long way in explaining the swift military successes of the Taliban against the non-Pushtun Afghan forces in campaigns in which both Pakistani Army officers and men (serving as well as retired) were involved. The Taliban’s military campaign in Afghanistan commenced after an announcement by Pakistan that it would open a trade route through Afghanistan to Central Asia (former Soviet Central Asian Republics: Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan). Pakistan ascertained that the Tajik-dominated government in Kabul posed a threat to Pakistan by keeping the Pashtuns, uncontrolled by any state, in a condition of agitation. However, the stakes for both Pakistan and Saudi Arabia were much more than trade routes — potentially lucrative oil and gas pipelines were involved.

In spring 1996, reports indicated that a partnership between the American oil major Unocal and the Saudi Delta had concluded plans for a multi-billion dollar oil and gas pipeline project traversing from Turkmenistan to Baluchistan in Pakistan via Herat and Kandahar in Afghanistan. Originally, these companies had concluded separate agreements with military commanders along the projected pipeline route, and the Taliban, who now controlled the entire route, had become their major partner. It became apparent, however, that billions of dollars of financing required for this route would not be available without the agreement of the Government of Afghanistan. Rabbani, naturally, was reluctant to sponsor a project that would strengthen his opponents. His government, thus, became a major strategic obstacle to Pakistan's goal of reaching Central Asia, and the growing imperative of consolidating the Taliban regime throughout Afghanistan.

Only three countries in the world have extended recognition to the Taliban regime-Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates. (The latter two have severed diplomatic ties with the Taliban, after the September 11 terrorist strikes in the US). The Afghan seat at the United Nations continues to be held by former President Burhanuddin Rabbani. The United Nations and other international organisations have consistently criticised the Taliban regime for its violation of human rights, particularly restrictions on women, who are prohibited from all work outside their homes as also the severe constraints on their freedom, including a ban on education. On October 10, 1999, the United State imposed political and economical sanctions against the Taliban regime as it was providing shelter to and supporting Saudi fugitive and Islamist terrorist, Osama bin Laden. On October 25, 1999, the Taliban offered to enter into a dialogue with the US, and including the issue of the future of Osama bin Laden. Although, on October 28, 1999, bin Laden made public his desire to leave Afghanistan, he continues to stay on as the ‘guest’ of the Taliban regime.

The recruiting base for the Taliban has been the Afghan Talibs who were studying in large numbers in madrassas throughout Pakistan. Studying in madrassas was reportedly an alternative to the dreary living conditions inside Afghanistan. Most madrassa chiefs support the Talibs during their stay in order to increase the number of followers of their particular sect. Between 1989 and 1991, many Mujahideen, disillusioned with the fratricidal war amongst the various Mujahideen groups, following the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan, also joined these madrassas. Initially, the madrassas were substantially supported and funded by the Pakistani state, and the ISI still plays a significant role in their operations, but these have assumed an increasing autonomy over time.

Since the time they gained control over Afghan territory, the Taliban have pursued an isolationist and fundamentalist Islamist agenda. The ideological underpinning of the Taliban movement is a mixture of rural Pashtun values, Islamist fundamentalism and totalitarian thinking. The Taliban leadership has indicated that their aim is to set up the world's ‘purest’ Islamist state, banning what they perceive as corrupting agents and frivolities like television, music and cinema. All technological advances including television, cameras, and films have been condemned by the Taliban regime and individual items destroyed and publicly displayed.

Their attempts to ‘eradicate’ crime have been reinforced by the introduction of their own variant of Islamic law, including public executions and amputations. Capital punishment has been meted out frequently and the position of women and children has worsened considerably. Since the Taliban believes in an orthodox interpretation of Islam, it has issued decrees requiring women to wear the full burqa (veil), shut down girls' schools, and forbade women from working or appearing in public without a male guardian. They also require men to grow beards, wear turbans and attend mosques. As they believe that listening to music is against the Islamist code, they have banned music in Kabul. They have also forbidden kite flying and chess. Such measures, along with restrictions on women's access to health care, have caused extreme hardship to and resentment among ordinary Afghans. The Ministry for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice – essentially a moral/religious police – is involved in the dissemination and enforcement of the edicts of Mullah Mohammed Omar, including those relating to appropriate attire as also the prescribed length of beards. The edicts are also broadcast on Radio Shariat run by the Taliban regime. The Shariah imposed by the Taliban is a mixture of Shariah with traditional Pashtoonwali, a code of the Pashtun tribes. In the most severe display of religious intolerance, the Taliban regime destroyed ancient Buddha statues at Bamiyan in March 2001, thus calling upon itself widespread international condemnation. These decrees were also denounced by many Islamist nations, including the religious leadership of Iran and the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt.

Mullah Mohammed Omar is the religious leader of the Taliban and has the titles of ‘Commander in Chief’ and Amirul Momineen (‘Commander of the Faithful’). He reportedly acquired the title of Amirul Momineen upon wrapping himself in a cloak that is claimed to have originally belonged to Prophet Mohammed, in an attempt to legitimize his role. And also to raise the morale of the Taliban cadres, as they were facing their initial defeats from what is now the Northern Alliance opposition. Initially, Mullah Omar ruled by a Jirga or Shura (committee) where the people would voice their opinion and he would make a final decision. Mullah Omar now arrives at decisions in increasing isolation, with a few trustworthy mullahs.

The Taliban regime reportedly has a war chest of more than $100 million. A major part of its revenues are generated through finances from Saudi Arabia, as also the smuggling trade with Pakistan via the Afghan Trade Transit (ATT). Another significant source is revenue from the poppy crop. Opium is exported across Afghanistan’s borders, especially to Pakistan and then onward to Western Europe and the US. Yet another significant source of income is the direct and indirect aid received from Pakistan, which reportedly provides financial support and weapons, assistance in maintaining aircraft, oil and road construction equipment. All these keep the Taliban war machine running. The Taliban armory is currently stocked with adequate weapons, including an air force, to sustain current, and even enhanced, levels of operation, as a result of the ISI's vigorous assistance. The Taliban possesses an unspecified number of Stinger missiles (estimated at about 80) that were inducted into the Afghan theatre in 1989. There are firm reports of the presence of Pakistani Army personnel among the Taliban ranks, guiding as well as taking part in operational and tactical missions.

The United Nations Security Council (UNSC) through its Resolution No. 1267 (1999), 15 October 1999, demanded that the Taliban hand over Osama bin Laden without further delay to the appropriate authorities. Since this demand was not met, the prohibitions contained in paragraph 4 of the resolution – i.e. a flight ban on any aircraft owned, leased or operated by or on behalf of the Taliban, as well as a freeze on funds directly or indirectly owned or controlled by the Taliban – came into effect on November 14, 1999. Furthermore, through Resolution No. 1333 (2000), December 19, 2000, the UNSC demanded compliance of its earlier Resolution and also imposed an embargo on the direct or indirect supply, sale and transfer to the territory of Afghanistan under Taliban control, of arms and related materiel of all types, including weapons and ammunition, military vehicles and equipment, paramilitary equipment and spare parts. In that resolution, the UNSC also decided that states shall prevent the direct or indirect sale, supply and transfer to Taliban-controlled areas of Afghanistan of technical advice, assistance or training related to military activities, and said that anyone providing military advice to the Taliban should be withdrawn. Those measures, the Council decided, should not apply to supplies of non-lethal military equipment intended solely for humanitarian or protective use and related technical assistance or training. Resolution 1333 (2000) also called on states to close all Taliban offices in their territories, as well as all offices of Ariana Afghan Airlines and to freeze without delay funds and other financial assets of Osama bin Laden and individuals and entities associated with him. It decided that all states shall prevent the sale, supply or transfer of acetic anhydride to any person in the Taliban-controlled territory of Afghanistan. Further, the UNSC decided that states must deny any flight clearance to planes that are leaving from or landing in the territory of Afghanistan controlled by the Taliban. While refusing to obey the UNSC resolutions, the Taliban have all along said that bin Laden is a ‘guest’ in their country, and they would not take any action against him. Along with many in the Taliban leadership, bin Laden is a veteran of the Afghani resistance to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. In fact, the close association between bin Laden and Mullah Mohammed Omar is said to date back to this period.

The Taliban has permitted the operation of training camps as also of indoctrination facilities for non-Afghans. It has also provided logistics support to members of various terrorist outfits, including those that are active in Central Asia, Chechnya, and Jammu and Kashmir. Many terrorist outfits such as the Laskhar-e-Toiba (LeT), Al-Badr, Harkat-ul-Mujahideen (HuM) and Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) have close links with the Taliban militia.





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